Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fuji FinePix HS10 Meets Bruce Cockburn

Tonight was a big test of my Fuji FinePix HS10; I took it to a concert.

Remember, I'm a retired newspaper shooter. I once used top of the line Canon EOS cameras. I often shot concerts with an f/1.8 200mm prime lens. I was never concerned about the light; With an f/1.8 there is always enough light. And with such a massive, large f/stop, I could use any shutter speed necessary to stop the action on stage. As for the ISO setting, I always went lightly, no big boosts here; I wanted to minimize noise.

Tonight I had none of that. I had a lens which when zoomed got progressively slower. I'd be lucky to shoot at f/5.6, I thought.

So, I gambled with the shutter speed; I picked 1/320 second. I gambled with the ISO; I set it to 6400. And, I truly threw the dice with the f/stop; I used Auto!

And I won my bets! Or at least I think I did. What's your opinion? Feel free to comment. (This was written quickly last night on returning from the concert. Read on to get the in-depth scoop.)

Everything I've read about the Fuji HS10 made worry about trying to capture a singer on stage with this camera. I read that the lens was incredibly slow when zoomed, the pictures were soft and smudged looking when shot at anything faster than ISO800 and the camera was impossible to use without a tripod when zoomed all the way to 720mm.

Now, one rule of photography is not to decide you cannot get a picture before pushing the shutter button. Photography is not about equipment; Photography is about photographers. Clearly there are limitations imposed by equipment. But more often the limitations are imposed by the shooter. You can't do much about the equipment problems but you control the photographer --- you.

Before leaving for the concert, I brushed up on my knowledge of the camera. The HS10 is one complex piece of equipment for a fellow who places the Canon SD10 in the Parthenon of point-and-shoot. I confess, I still have not truly mastered this hi-tech tool.

Getting to the concert early, I sat down close to the stage and began preparing the camera for the concert. First I set it to Sports Action figuring this would force the camera to make decision based on stopping action. I shot a few quick pictures of the audience and immediately learned that this would not work. The shutter speed chosen by the camera was simply too slow.

I set the camera to shutter priority. If you don't understand shutter priority read the entry posted on Digital Photography School. I set the shutter to 1/500th thinking that was a good starting point and I shot some more pictures. I assumed that the stage lighting would remain fairly constant. Not enough light.

I then started playing with the ISO setting. Remember all major full settings make changes of one full stop (to be technical step not stop but let's not be silly). So, change the ISO from 100 to 200 and it is similar to opening the lens another f/stop.

I moved the ISO from 100 to 6400: A change of 5 stops! And I shot some quick preliminary pix. They looked good exposure wise but they suffered from camera movement. I'd have to brace the HS10 somehow, I thought.

Lastly, I increased the dynamic range of the camera one increment. I'll confess I don't know exactly what this does but it sounds good. I had read the extreme setting resulted in increased noise and I didn't want that and the factory setting, I read, allowed highlights to burn out. I picked the in-between setting.

Immediately before the concert I walked to the front of the stage, squatted down and staked out my position --- not quite in front of the mic. I didn't want every picture marred by a mic blocking my view of Cockburn. The really fine thing about my "seat" was the wooden barrier. I could shoot under it while pushing the top of the camera firmly against the wood. This steadied the camera.

After Cockburn appeared I realized that I didn't need to shoot at 1/500th second. I moved the shutter speed setting down to 1/320th. The camera was picking f/stops in the f/5.0 range --- sometimes a little faster and sometimes a little slower. This looked good to me.

I pushed the high speed continuous shooting button and I was ready to rock.


  1. Congrats on the great concert shots. Bruce's exspressions are wonderful as is your composition (don't know if you cropped or zoomed in this tight, but looks great. The noise is actually a nice texture with the stage lighting. Kudos!
    Seattle Daily Photo

  2. I'm soon to acquire this camera(2 years late but it is certainly much cheaper in the 2nd hand market now) after upgrading from a finepix s5700, which was a great bridge camera for its time. I plan to do alot of concert photography of small pub bands and underground artists. I enjoyed reading your logical approach to experimenting with the camera and getting the right settings. These photos turned out really good and I'm impressed with how well the CMOS sensor handled noise at 6400 ISO. The biggest threat to taking effective photos in low light conditions is simply insufficient light. The camera can only work with the available ambient light in the room and certain venues like bands to play in a completely darkened room with one or two small overhead lights which forces me to use flash photography. I really don't like using flash because it annoys the musicians on stage, is distracting and causes dull, artificial looking photos.